Mr. Monster (Dan Wells): Book Review

MrMonsterSYNOPSIS: (Be warned — Some spoilers from Book 1: I am not a Serial Killer up ahead) After killing a demon who kills people for parts in the first installment, life in Clayton County has returned to normal for teenage sociopath John Wayne Cleaver. But after unleashing his alter ego Mr. Monster to slay the Clayton killer, he finds that his dark half isn’t as easy to contain as before. His mom tries to help him out by trying to keep him from thinking negative thoughts but instead of calming him down, her efforts irk him further. He finally finds a distraction when a new serial killer rolls into town, seeming to call out John himself, and he finds himself pushed to his limits — forced to pit his baser nature against what he believes is the right thing to do as he faces off with a new demon, one more sinister than the last.

I devoured Dan Wells’ I am a Serial Killer in half a  day and finished the sequel in pretty much the same time. I must state for the record that while I enjoyed the first book immensely, I was a little on the fence about injecting the supernatural element into it. Halfway into reading the second book however, I realized that I have gotten used to the fantasy elements and they already felt familiar so I was more open and accepting to the idea this time around.

Dan Wells is a great writer, and in Mr. Monster,  he speaks from John’s voice so well — communicating his feelings, his frustrations, his inner conflicts and his genuine effort to be normal that readers’ hearts simply go out to this series’ unlikely protagonist. Its true that the pyromania, deliberately hurting animals and the thirst for violence were truly disturbing aspects of John’s character but readers pretty much know what they signed up for if they read the first book, or picked up one with the title Mr. Monster. The first book was more of an analysis of John’s sociopathy, but in this sequel, his dysfunction has grown much worse — he understands himself and his tendencies better and the struggle is much more complicated now that he is in the throes of adolescence, further complicated by the fact that the subject of his violent fantasies is Brooke, the girl he likes — the same one his mother keeps on pushing at him. The manner in which John processes regular stuff that happens on dates is both hilarious and scary, but it successfully illustrates how inept he is at normalcy and makes sense of his different way of thinking.

As a matter of fact, Wells does such a good job of describing John’s inner struggle (in his personal life) and obsession with the new killer’s MO that when the culprit is finally revealed, readers feel like a rug is pulled from under them because they never see it coming.

And while John’s close call with his demon neighbor was enough of a nail biter, in Mr. Monster, Wells puts him right in the middle of the action — in the face of his inner demons, held captive, pressed for time, with another demon pushing his buttons, challenging him to take the final step and become a demon himself. Suffice to say that what happens in the culprit’s basement is not for the weak of stomach as Wells paints such a vivid picture of torture, and the results of the culprit’s ruthlessness when the bodies are found. It reads like an episode of Born to Kill of Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer. Its truly disturbing.

What’s really great about this book is the narration — they are so expressive that readers feel the suspense of every moment, the feel of captivity, the imminent threat and the spark of hope. Yet, at the same time, it didn’t give everything away.There were still a lot of questions that could fuel the sequels and its pretty evident that John has still a long way to go before he embraces himself fully — both his light and dark side.

All in all, Mr. Monster is  much more brutal, much more raw, much more graphic and leagues darker than the first book, mainly because the villain this time, is pure evil. While John flexes his muscles at using his dysfunction for good, its interesting to see his growing skills evolving along with much more complicated nemesis. It gets pretty exciting to watch John go against meaner and more powerful enemies with each book. Of course, for a sociopath (even one who is trying his best to be a good guy), not everything will turn up roses and John does get his fair share of setbacks but his victories far outweigh his losses. While ideally, John would somehow develop empathy as his story progresses, as a sociopath, its very unrealistic. Still, here’s to hoping that he will succeed in being the good guy. His last statement to another demon makes me hopeful: ‘I’m the demonslayer.Come and get me.” The third book is bound to be epic at this rate.

I am not a Serial Killer (Dan Wells): Book Review

200px-IAmNotASerialKillerSYNOPSIS: John Wayne Cleaver is a 15-year old sociopath working as a part time embalmer in his family’s funeral home. Unlike most people his age, he does not feel empathy for other people, but he tries to hide his abnormality from the rest of the world by pretending to be normal and following rules that are intended to steer him off the path of being a serial killer, of which he knows he has a great tendency for. But when a serial killer strikes in his very own hometown, John is forced to unleash the monster inside him to prevent the killer from victimizing more people from his community.

The first thing that got me interested in reading the book was the title. I am not a Serial Killer had an ominous ring to it, and learning that the main protagonist is actually a 15 year old mortician piqued my curiosity even more.

John Wayne Cleaver, who believes he was named after the serial killer John Wayne Gacy (instead of the actor John Wayne), is really a compelling protagonist. Pragmatic and matter of fact, he analyzes his own personality as clinically as he would the serial killers he is so obsessed about. Its true that its a tad creepy for a teenager, especially one as young as John to be fascinated by death the way that he is but part of the book’s charm is how it successfully manages to get readers to empathize with a character who feels no empathy for others.

John is a very smart character and I’m always a sucker for smart characters. Dan Wells created such a strong personality in John that readers hear his voice loud and clear — his loneliness, his dysfunction, his youth in his first person narrative. I liked the fact that he’s always trying to indirectly get the advice of his therapist Dr. Neblin because he acknowledges that there is something deeply wrong with him. He understands himself and his psychosis really well, and I must say, I’ve learned a lot about sociopaths, murderers and serial killers from him better than any TV show or psychology book. He’s like a composite of Dexter and Norman Bates but readers can tell he is still at the beginning stages because he is still able to understand his limits — what he can and can’t do.

The book changed its tone in the middle and veered towards the supernatural, and although John’s serial killer tendencies were still at the forefront of the plot, especially when he was trying to outsmart the actual killer, it seemed weird and off balance at that point. I thought it would have been much cooler for John to have dealt with an actual serial killer rather than a demon so he could test out his mettle against a like-minded enemy.

I felt like the beginning served as a great opening for a thriller for a variety of demographics but in going the mythical path, it seemed to downgrade itself to the kiddie section, to the Hardy Boys/Scooby Doo audience. This is not to say that the book was not well written because it was marvelous from start to finish. It was a really compelling read but I just felt like John Wayne Cleaver could have done better going head to head with a real live killer. It would have given him more room to learn about himself and his potential future.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading I am not a Serial Killer.  It was suspenseful and tense in all the right moments but it never lost touch of its sense of humanity despite its depiction of the monsters inside regular people (not just John). Seeing as the book is only the first one in a trilogy, it successfully opened doors for future plotlines like John falling in love with Brooke (he is after all a teenager). Also, now that his alter ego Mr. Monster is already out, it would be interesting to see how his two personas will wrestle and who will prevail in the end.

Brick Mansions:Movie Review

paul-walkers-action-film-brick-mansions-has-a-2nd-trailerIn yet another movie featuring Paul Walker shown after his death, Brick Mansions is a remake of the French action film District 13 (Banlieue 13 or B13) released in 2004 starring actor/stunt choreographer/founder of Parkour David Belle. The film, written and produced by Luc Besson enjoyed great success in Europe so it was natural for Hollywood to want a piece of the action.

The year is 2018 and Detroit has become the most crime-ridden city in the world. With violence running rampant, the mayor has ordered the erection of a wall that will serve as a divide for the city’s slum area (Brick Mansions) and business district. After years of leaving the residents of Brick Mansions to oppression, poverty and a general lack of social services, the mayor asks for support from the city’s elite to build a high end commercial district in place of the slums, with the promise that he will take care of all the members of his constituents. Meanwhile, he and his men send out undercover cop Damian Collier (Walker) beyond the wall to disarm a bomb hijacked by crime lord Tremaine Alexander (RZA) which threatens to wipe out the slums. Belle reprises his role in the original movie as Lino (he was Leito in the French version), the vigilante who helps Damian get to Tremaine and find justice for  his father, who he believes was killed by Alexander.

I must say that Brick Mansions was a film that had a lot of energy. A lot of running, a lot of action, a lot of cool stunts, a lot of great cars and a lot of explosions. Its the type of movie that does not allow audiences to blink during an action sequence because the choreography is so interesting and so tight that one must really give credit to the stunt choreographers who worked on the innovative moves. David Belle had no problem executing his stunts and the guy is such a joy to watch because from the first glance, audiences know that he’s the real thing. Paul Walker’s scenes were also good but audiences could tell that he’s not as learned in the execution as Belle was. Because there was such fluidity and speed in Belle’s movements, the very slight delays in Paul’s punches seem more pronounced in comparison. But still, credit to Paul (or his stunt double) for the well executed synchronized moves which were great to see.

While the action was great, the same thing could not be said with the rest of the movie. RZA, though oozing with coolness outside of this movie (he’s the frickin founder of the Wu Tang Clan for Pete’s sake!), seemed unable to strike the perfect balance between menacing villain and consciencious do-gooder. As a result, no matter which team he played for, he was not a great presence because there was no conviction in his portrayal. The rest of the goons seemed like cardboard cutouts of goons before them and it was just sad because the environment truly called for more brutal and graphic representation. Belle and Walker might have made a great team in terms of action but there was no real connection between the two stars, and no pivotal moment that would solidify their bromance. There was no rapport between the characters at all. And the mayor! If a person was going to be cast as a main villain in a movie, shouldn’t it follow that some effort would be required to pull off the role? Should’nt said villain be compelling enough to bring enemies together for a common cause? Sadly, Bruce Ramsay may not have gotten the memo because his chief of staff seemed more in tune with his dark side than the evil mayor.

The narrative was all over the place and seemed more concerned about  moving the action sequences along to give audiences the illusion that they are being entertained, no matter that there is no genuine substance behind the plot and no big set up for the final reveal. It was very predictable, as expected from the beginning. The ending was super cheesy (not the good kind) that it made me want to hide under the desk because of embarrassment for Paul Walker. If you give this film the time of day, you would understand what I’m getting at.

All in all, my main problem with the movie was its reliance on the stunts to sell the movie. For a supposed film that talks of oppression of people, it should have connected with audience at some point because evidently, the residents of Brick Mansions were the ultimate underdogs, shunned by the government that was supposed to protect them. Its frustrating because how can viewers sympathize with the characters when they themselves couldn’t care less about their plight? Nobody supported Lino’s lone crusade from the beginning and its hard to cheer for people who are that lazy to fight for what they deserve. Still, the characters are not entirely to blame. This lack of connection owes mainly to the film’s lack of heart, which is evident in the haphazard editing and cardboard characters. It was such a waste of talent. Good effort from David Belle though. At the end of the day, I’m glad that this is not Walker’s swan song. (Because no matter what movies claim, its gonna be the final Fast and Furious). He deserves to be remembered for more.

Blended: Movie Review

blended-movie-logo-y4taiyutWhile I admit that Adam Sandler’s recent movies were subpar (Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill), the decision to team up with Hollywood sweetheart Drew Barrymore for the third time for this family comedy was a great way to get back to the fans’ good graces. While hugely massacred by critics, Blended brought me a lot of laughs and I thought it was really cute. Incidentally, the movie is also a reunion of sorts with director Frank Coraci, who directed their first movie (The Wedding Singer).

Jim (Sandler) is a widower trying to do right with raising his three daughters Hilary aka Larry (Bella Thorne), Espn, named after sports network ESPN (Emma Fuhrmann) and Lou (Alyvia Lind’s) while Lauren (Barrymore) is a divorcee who juggles managing her business with dealing with her two energetic boys — Brendan (Braxton Beckham) and Tyler (Kyle Silverstein) . The two don’t necessarily hit it off during their blind date but fate has a surprise in store for them as they find out that Jim’s boss and Laura’s friend Jen, who are dating, will not be using their familymoon tickets to Africa. Sensing an opportunity, Jim buys his boss’s tickets while Laura does the same for Jen. While on the trip, the two families discover that they may be blending together better than they think.

Adam and Drew may have worked together before on The Wedding Singer (which I have seen about 10 times) and 50 First Dates (which I saw roughly four or five), but Blended offers something different from the first two movies because they are now playing characters with kids. The semi-serious widower role may be a bit of a change for Adam at first, and so is the harried mother of two character for Drew but these two know how to seize opportunity when they see it. At first, their scenes seem a bit awkward and forced, but as the movie chugged along, they found their rapport and gained momentum, reminding audiences why they are such a powerhouse together.

I liked that Adam dialed down the juvenile and crass humor for this family flick. I think that its even more wholesome than Just Go With It, and that’s a good thing. I liked that more than Adam and Drew, the kids are given great moments to shine because each one has their own appeal that endears them to the audience. I was laughing so hard at tomboy Larry  trying to catch the eye of her crush Jake (Zak Henri) by busting out her dance moves in the hard court. Also, little Lou’s  change of heart in the girl’s bathroom when she saw that her dad made her up like a Walking Dead, and her subsequent Linda Blair moments were so adorable. The movie certainly highlighted the difficulties of solo parenting and dealing with kids of certain age.

There were a lot of great moments with the kids in all, and the supporting characters were also nothing to scoff at — kudos to Shaquille O’Neill who played Jim’s work buddy and Terry Crews who played the lead vocalist of the tattoos, the official lounge/pool/gym singers of the Sun City Luxury Hotel. But I was really charmed by the resort’s incompetent security director and well meaning activities director. They were both hilarious in varying degrees.

The film had a lot going for it and while the idea or the outcome may be a mass of cliches and cheesiness, there is a certain sweetness to the idea of finding family and friendship (Eddy and Ginger) in people you don’t expect. While some of the characters were outrageous, they were more likeable than annoying. While they pushed the idea of being blended too hard, it became funny rather than tedious. While the dramatic ideas in the film were not new, they became more endearing than played out, because there was a strong cast behind the production. The film showcasing the beauty of Africa in a fun and wholesome way was also a great inspiration to travelers like myself and a fitting tribute the majesty of the place.

All in all, kudos to the Blended team for a strongly blended outcome. It was clear on its target market so it did not border on buddy comedy territory. It created characters, both young and not so young who were fun to watch — and very relatable to a variety of viewers to boot. While the film was not entirely perfect,  it had a few missteps (something stupid is always a staple in an Adam Sandler movie after all) along the way but negligible enough not to ruin the audience’s good time. It was bordered on stereotype, but at the end of the day, it still had a little something for everybody. It set out to be a feel good movie and for the most part, it turned out that way. Despite not being the best of the Sandler/Barrymore trilogy, and far from being Adam or Drew’s best performances, it certainly is far from the worst. The Sandler-Barrymore team is still 3 for 3 in my book. What a great partnership.

Aftershock (2010): Movie Review

AftershockIn 1976, a major earthquake devastated the Tangshan district in China, killing thousands, including the husband of Li Yuan (Xu Fan) after protecting her from danger. The film revolves around Li Yuan’s heartbreaking decision to save one of her twins Fang Da (Li Chen) and Fang Deng (Zhang Jingchu) and how her decision dictated their lives for the next 32 years.

Dealing with a disaster movie is pretty tall order, so much so when the disaster in question actually took place in real life. There are a lot of emotions involved for a nation that has suffered great loss. This must be the feeling of the Chinese when watching the film, reliving that fateful day in 1976, cringing at the devastation, yet at the same time, inspired by the unity of its people in the wake of disaster.

When this film was shown at the opening of the Chinese Film Festival in Manila, I felt that it was the right movie to kickstart the festival because Filipinos too, recently suffered a great loss from supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) which struck the Visayas area and leveled major cities in the region. As viewers witnessed the breakdown of the buildings and the screams of terror, audiences can’t help but be pulled into the scene, recalling what it was like to see the news of their own people suffering in the wake of the calamity, and the feeling of pulling together as a nation to respond to the need of those who were affected by the disaster. Even people who have not been touched by loss would surely relate to the raw emotions being conveyed by a mother on the verge of losing her family, the neighbors pitching in to save whom they could, the recovery of the bodies and lining them up en masse on the streets. It was one of the many dramatic moments of the film, the first of many.

Technically, the effects were not as flawless as they should be. The CGI did not seem very realistic in some parts, but then again, it was not really the selling point of the movie. In terms of storytelling, I felt at times, that the movie was too detailed in some parts, but too vague with the others, so the wait for the final resolution to the story was kind of a long journey.

The best part of the movie was the story and the acting. I especially loved Xu Fan who played the lead role of Li Yuan, the mother. The way she was punishing herself for the 32 years for her choice was heartbreaking and would thaw even the stoniest of hearts. On the other hand, I understood what it was like for Fang Deng, the daughter who felt rejected and left for dead, suffering an emotional trauma on top of the psychological trauma from the earthquake. But my favorite character was really Wang Dequing (Chen Daoming) who played Fang Deng’s adoptive father. He was not selfish and it was clear that her love for his adopted daughter was unconditional. He won Best Performance by an actor in the Asia Pacific Screen Awards for his portrayal. With such great characters, one could not help but be involved with the movie.

As could be expected, there were a lot of crying (because, it was, after all, a drama) but other than that, there were a lot of other dimensions to the movie as well. There was the matter of dealing with the aftershock of the disaster — guilt, love, loss, betrayal, and forgiveness and the characters’ evolution with their emotions. I for one, thought that the approach was very Asian and depicts the Asian culture very well — unity in the face of adversity, a love for family, and a generosity of spirit that allows for understanding in the worst transgressions (sometimes, this is not a very good trait, but for the movie, it is). Surely, an appropriate film to be shown in a festival that showcases a common culture among different people, it is a film that calls for reflection about one’s own humanity and imperfections and understanding the possibility that everything can be lost in one fell swoop.

Chinese Film Festival @ SM Cinema from Sept. 5-9

Chinese Film Festival PosterWant to catch a culturally enriching film for free? Look no further than the SM Cinemas to avail of this experience!

In time with the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese Moon Festival, SM Cinema is hosting the Chinese Film Festival in select branches from September 5 to September 9. This partnership between the Chinese Embassy of the Philippines and SM Cinema aims to promote cultural understanding between China and the Philippines.

The free screenings showcase innovative Chinese films of high artistic value that gears towards Filipinos’ understanding of Chinese cultural diversity and heritage. The Chinese Film Festival will be showcased in SM Megamall, SM North Edsa, SM San Lazaro and SM Manila.

The premiere, attended by representatives from the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines and SM Lifestyle Entertainment Inc. was highlighted by a presentation of the Angeles University Concert Chorus, who flawlessly performed traditional and contemporary Chinese songs.

Among the award winning films to be shown are:

Back to 1942 (winner, International Rome Film Festival, HK Awards): A deadly drought in 1942 takes its toll on central China’s Henan province during the war against Japan. ( synopsis from imdb)

Caught in the Web: A young woman is victimized by a massive viral internet campaign.

The Grandmaster (winner, 50th Golden Horse Awards, 33rd HK Film Awards: The story of martial arts master Ip Man, who trained Bruce Lee. The film stars Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung. (synopsis from imdb)

Say Yes: A romance fantasy based on the Japanese drama 101st Marriage Proposal.

Full Circle: Lao Ge prepares to enter a retirement home with a suitcase, a picture of his wife and a potted plant. He’s had a difficult 20 years with his estranged son, who has recently married. Lao Ge leaves his son with 200,000 yuan to pay the downpayment on an apartment. At the retirement home, Lao Ge’s friend Lao Chou, who has bladder cancer, prepares for a concert in Tienjin.(asianwiki)

Little Big Soldier: Written, starred and produced by Jackie Chan, about an old soldier kidnaps a young general of an enemy state and takes him on a long journey to collect the reward. The film also stars Taiwanese superstar Wang Leehom. (imdb)

Aftershock: A mother’s choice shapes the lives of her children after the Great Tangshan Earthquake that struck China in 1976.

To know more about SM Cinema, you may visit www.e-PLUS.ph and www.smcinema.com.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Book Review

Dark_Places_coverOkay, so sue me. I am guilty of picking up the book (or in this case, ebook) upon learning there was going to be a movie, but I can’t say that I regret the decision. If anything, it only got be more excited to see the film adaptation of this Gillian Flynn crime thriller.

SYNOPSIS: 24 years after the gruesome murders of her mother and two sisters, Libby Day, the sole survivor of the crime, is confronted by a group called the Kill Club about the possibility that her big brother Ben, may not be the guilty party. Broke and desperate, Libby charges the group to interview “key people” in the murder to help them uncover the real culprit and solve the mystery behind the Satan Sacrifice of Kinakee, Texas.

Gillian Flynn is a great storyteller. From the first page up to the last, she uses a commanding voice that calls on the readers to pay attention lest they miss anything. I liked that the material had a lot of secrets and it got readers excited to find out what happens next. Interweaving events that happened during that fateful day in 1985 with present day, Flynn delivers the events and uncovers the mystery from various perspectives.

She depicts the desperation of Patty Day’s character, the rebelliousness of a teenage Ben Day, the uncertainty of Libby Day and the bitterness of Runner Day’s characters so clearly that readers feel connected to them and develop an understanding for their actions. Even the secondary characters helped build up their affinity with the main cast. An example would be Magda or Krissi Cates’ mother, the Kill Club members, and the townsfolk of Kinakee — their lack of sensitivity and their mob mentality pushes the readers closer to the Days, imperfect as they are.  As such, readers become compelled to formulate their own hypotheses about the murders, getting them invested in the outcome because they want true justice to be served.

I liked that there’s always something to look forward to and each chapter contributes to the suspense as Libby and Lyle get closer and closer to the truth. This is not to say that its not frustrating when despite new evidence and new leads coming to light, suspect after suspect get dismissed from the crime. Its kind of brilliant how Flynn manages, time and again, to pull the rug from under the readers’ feet, prodding them to review the evidence as if they were detectives in an actual crime. This is still happening in page 300, only thirty pages shy of the conclusion.

All in all, Dark Places was a very worthy read. It was graphic but really not as dark as I expected it to be (I was expecting the worst) but it was evenly paced with a lot of interesting characters with a lot of strong presence. Its kind of sad to see how one event can set of a chain of misfortune in the life of others that can never be taken back. Its tragic and its bittersweet and examines how tragedy, desperation and failure corrupts a person. On the flipside, its also about guilt and redemption, and at the end of the day, family, and how far one would go for that connection. It would be interesting how the movie fares because the book kicked ass.